Before now, the bulk of my knowledge of Guardians of Galaxy stemmed from the 2014 and 2017 films – both of which are these vibrantly-colored, science-fiction confectionery treats with nutty and light-hearted fillings, coatings of 60’s/70’s pop music for that zany, playful taste and sprinkles of action and family drama. They were fun and charming viewing experiences that made me laugh out loud.
When I first saw the initial reveal for Marvel’s Guardians of Galaxy back in June, it was immediately clear to me how much the game has taken inspiration from its film counterparts, but so much more was shown that ultimately left me wondering. I had this itchy curiosity to find out exactly how Eidos-Montréal, a developer with a confident history in developing story-driven RPG and action titles, will play to their strengths for their first superhero game. While the gameplay reveals gave me some idea of this, I struggled to picture how I would react to this experience firsthand on a moment-to-moment basis – especially since this will all come down to how palatable the story is.
The game opens several years after the end of a brutal interstellar war that affected the entire galaxy, and the Guardians are scheming to exploit the situation for the sake of making some quick money. Small mishaps are made as they follow through with their plan—triggering a chain of disastrous events that gradually threatens what little peace and stability that remains in the galaxy. This sets the stage for the many challenges the Guardians will face in their journey across the stars as they attempt to get out of debts of their own making, and eventually save the galaxy.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is an unadulterated single-player experience with its story and characters as the crowning centerpieces. Eidos-Montréal has crafted their own version of the Marvel universe that refreshingly embraces the kooky and ostentatious elements from the comic book series while also taking inspiration from the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) films for their humorous tone among other defining traits. The resulting experience is a vibrant and comical cosmic adventure catalyzed by its cast of main characters.
As the title implies, everything about the game centers around this motley crew called the Guardians of the Galaxy. Players take control of Peter Quill A.K.A. Star-Lord, the self-proclaimed leader, and it is through him that you experience both the social dynamics within the team and the overall narrative. Humor aside, this perspective opens the door to partake in events and interactions in the game that feel personal to Peter Quill.
At the same time, the story also dedicates its focus on the character growth for all the other Guardians as well including Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, Groot, and Rocket Raccoon. With this comes a few heartfelt moments involving the unique struggles each are dealt with due to their tragic pasts, and how they are subtly shaped by them.
What makes their adventures so particularly colorful and fun to follow through are the bickers and banters the Guardians make between each other throughout the game. There is an incredible amount of dialogue that plays out during every gameplay moment, so much so that it is rare when no conversations are being made at all.
Each Guardian almost always has something new to say depending on the situation, which makes exploring the different vibrant and extraterrestrial locations feel so alive and immersive. There were many moments where I purposely slowed down my progress just to listen to everything they had to say before triggering even more dialogue to play out. While there were only a handful of gags that genuinely made me laugh, the overall writing and performances do solid work to make everything else amusing and fun to listen to.
So much of the game is invested in spotlighting and developing their relationships, and fittingly so. The heart of the game’s overall experience is the Guardians themselves, and this is felt not only in how the story is delivered but also in the core gameplay systems. One in particular takes inspiration from the Deus Ex series.
Many conversations will prompt the player with dialogue options for what Star-Lord should say in the moment. Most of them are inconsequential and are there for some light role-playing as well as keeping the moment-to-moment gameplay a little more fresh, while the rest can have notable influences on how certain events play out. That being said, the overall plot remains largely intact regardless of the choices you make, but at least they occur frequently enough for players to personalize their own experience.
In between chapters, you will often find yourself with the Guardians inside the starship Milano, and it’s here that you can freely move around and explore the interiors and converse with other members of the team. Think of this space as their residential quarters where the Guardians are using their free time to do what they like, and their activities naturally change in subsequent visits as new events unfold. There are also unique interactions like the built-in music station where you can freely select one of the many licensed and original tracks available to be played across the entire ship.
As the story progresses, the Guardians will visit different locations across the galaxy, like exotic alien planets with their own unique flora and fauna, as well as iconic locations that fans of the MCU films and comic book series will surely recognize.
Each level in the game is designed where you will need to use different abilities to help you and the team arrive at seemingly out-of-reach places. Alongside the main path, there are also slightly obscured branching paths that lead to various collectibles including resources used as currency to unlock combat perks for Star-Lord, chests containing cosmetic outfits, expository journal logs, and unique items that unlock new conversations with members of the team when they are onboard the starship Milano.
Although navigating through these areas is pretty straightforward, much of what made this phase of gameplay particularly enjoyable and refreshing is listening to the frequent conversations the Guardians make, and the same can also be said during fights. Combat is an all-out action fest where defeating the enemies requires understanding and making full use of each of the Guardian’s capabilities. These sequences involve actively controlling Star-Lord while issuing commands to the other Guardians to use their unique abilities on targeted enemies. While not exactly deep, this streamlined approach helps you to quickly find a rhythm to complete battles efficiently.
As Star-Lord, you can fire multiple projectiles from afar using your elemental blasters as well as perform melee attacks if you want to get up close and personal. Instead of managing ammunition, your weapons go through a short cool-down period if you keep shooting long enough, but a neat little mechanic unlocked early in the game allows you to skip this if you time your button presses correctly. You can also quickly dodge incoming attacks and maneuver around the battlefield using Star-Lord’s jet boots.
Each party member plays a unique role in combat, and knowing when to use their abilities will make battles easier to deal with. Groot can immobilize enemies with his vines, leaving them wide open for you and the rest of the team to land in some free hits. Drax is bullish and can charge in to inflict stagger damage or momentarily stun enemies. As an assassin, Gamora has single-target abilities that deal heavy damage. Rocket uses his weapons to deal massive damage within an area of effect.
Another mechanic that is both flashy and useful is the ‘Huddle’, and this is a special ability that requires filling up its gauge to full before it can be used. When triggered, Star-Lord gathers all the Guardians to him for a pep-talk. Choosing the right dialogue option will buff the entire team, temporarily shortening the cool-down times for their abilities and allowing them to deal extra damage. However, the best part about using the Huddle is playing out one of the many licensed 80’s music available, which suddenly gives combat sequences an air of playfulness to them, and I love it. Here’s hoping one of you is lucky enough to listen to ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ by Rick Astley during a boss fight.
Completing enough battles will earn you ability points which can be spent to unlock new techniques for each of the Guardians, and even more are automatically unlocked as you progress the story to keep later fights fresh. For example, Star-Lord will eventually unlock all four elemental-based attacks, each inflicting unique status effects on enemies when fired.
There are three difficulty modes you can choose from prior to starting the game, and this largely determines the level of challenge you will experience during combat. In particular, there is a ‘Custom Difficulty’ mode that allows you to adjust certain variables to your liking such as how much damage can Star-Lord deal or receive, enable or disable certain HUD features for clarity purposes, and plenty more. I managed to breeze through my roughly 18-hour play-through on hard mode—experiencing only a little struggle.
On the topic of struggles, I did encounter a concerning bug while running the game on my Xbox Series X. This took place in what felt like most of the penultimate chapter, where I was constantly bombarded with incredibly low frame drops that made the game near unplayable even on performance mode. Hopefully, this is rectified in the day-one patch update.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun and amusing ride offering a beefy story with its fair share of spectacle action and character moments that is felt from beginning to end. Despite the shortcomings of its streamlined gameplay systems, all of them work in tandem to put the relationships and conversations between characters front and center—keeping the overall experience consistently fresh.
Disclaimer: Xbox Series review code provided by the publisher Square Enix.